September 28, 2011

Aligning with America

Thursday, 29 September 2011 00:53
G Parthasarathy

Strategic experts are upbeat about the potential of India-US relations as China's economic and military rise changes the global balance of power.

The rapid growth of what China calls its 'Comprehensive National Power' has been accompanied with strong manifestations of what the USSR used to describe as 'Great Han Chauvinism'.
Responding to concerns expressed about China's growing 'assertiveness' in relations with its smaller neighbours, its Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi nonchalantly told his Singaporean counterpart in December 2010, with the arrogance reminiscent of the rulers of the Ming dynasty, "China is a big country and other countries are just small countries and that's just a fact." The past two years have seen China resorting to coercion and even use of force, in enforcing its maritime boundary claims with Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. The same assertiveness, bordering on arrogance, is even manifested in China's dealing with India, which it treats as yet another 'small country' in its neighbourhood.

Leaving aside Chinese manoeuvres to undermine India in forums like the Nuclear Suppliers Group, China has actively colluded with Pakistan in blocking international efforts to get the Jaish-e-Mohammed, which masterminded the attack on our Parliament House, declared as an international terrorist organisation by the UN Security Council. It had acted identically in blocking efforts to get the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba outlawed prior to the 26/11 outrage. More importantly, China now acts as though Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the Northern Areas of Gilgit and Baltistan are an integral part of Pakistan, with only 'India-controlled' Jammu & Kashmir being a 'disputed territory'.

The 'Chief Minister' of Gilgit-Baltistan Syed Mehdi Shah has twice visited China in the recent past and was received at the highest levels. Contrast this with the entire issue of stapled visas for residents, including military officers, serving in Jammu & Kashmir. Moreover, planned Chinese investment for infrastructure and hydro-electric projects in Gilgit and Baltistan is estimated to be of the order of $10 billion, with growing suspicions that the tunnels being built are really meant for nuclear weapons and to serve as missile silos. All this is happening when Pakistan is tearing itself apart under the weight of its internal contradictions, combined with the stupidity of its military in cultivating radical Islamist groups to 'bleed' India and force the Americans out of Afghanistan.

These were among the issues considered by a high-level non-official group from the Council for Foreign Relations and the Aspen Institute, India, has now come out with a detailed report on shaping the contours of a US-India partnership to deal with global challenges. While the Indian participants included former National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra and two former Ambassadors to the US, Mr KS Bajpai and Mr Naresh Chandra, the American side included luminaries like the former Director of Intelligence Denis Blair, Bush Administration National Security Adviser Stephen Headley and Ambassador Robert Blackwill. The CFR-AII report comes at a time when the US is finding that its two Cold War allies, China and Pakistan, are either directly challenging its global pre-eminence or supporting terrorists killing its soldiers in Afghanistan.

The report notes that Pakistan's intelligence agencies "support terrorist groups that target India, Afghanistan and ISAF forces in Afghanistan". After the Abbottabad raid which eliminated Osama bin Laden, the US is finding that General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, whom it had touted for long as a "tough professional", is now arranging for the Haqqani network to even attack the American Embassy in Kabul. The report says, "Pakistan is showing alarming signs of systemic decline. Its economy continues to underperform peers in Asia." It significantly notes that the US should "condition military aid to Pakistan on concrete anti-terrorist measures by the Pakistani military against groups targeting India and the US".

The American decision to declare the Indian Mujahideen as a Pakistan-backed international terrorist organization should be seen in this context. The 'dialogue with Pakistan mantra' is alluded to, though Americans have no answer to the question whether 'dialogue' will induce Pakistan to change its behaviour. The report dwells on the need for a regional framework of countries, including the US, China, Russia, Iran, the Central Asian Republics, India and Pakistan to evolve measures for stability in Afghanistan.

Predictably, the report asserts that India and the US have no intention of "confrontation with China, or to forge a coalition for China's containment". But, the sub-text is clear. It advocates a strengthened India-US partnership for a viable "balance of power" in Asia, covering both the Indian Ocean, which is described as "home to critical global lines of communication, with an estimated 50 per cent of the world's container products and 70 per cent of the ship-borne oil and petroleum transiting through its waters," and to the Asia-Pacific region. Interestingly, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently referred to Asia-Pacific as "Indo-Pacific", quite obviously having taken note of India's growing ties with Australia, Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. It is also clear that India-US differences will remain on relations with Iran and on Nato's propensity for selective regime change under the rubric of 'Responsibility to Protect'.

The report is upbeat on US-India economic ties and makes significant recommendations for enhancing cooperation in areas like space, defence production and defence research and development. Goldman Sachs estimates that the Indian economy will expand at an average rate of 8.4 per cent through 2020. The report stresses the significant potential for cooperation in areas like infrastructure, transportation, energy and agriculture. While it calls for American support for Indian membership ofexport control forums like the NSG, MTCR, the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement, should India really show interest in joining these cartels, especially given the US-led move to get the NSG to ban the export of reprocessing and enrichment technology to India because it is not a signatory to the NPT?

No Indian interest is served in joining such forums, where it is considered less equal than others. We need to bide our time and see how US pressures influence  our other partners like France and Russia who do not share the American aversion for the transfer of important reprocessing technology to India. Moreover, both France and Russia appear unhappy but ready to live with the provisions of India's Nuclear Liability Act even though they may require higher insurance cover for their nuclear power plants.

The CFR-AII report carries wide-ranging recommendations which South Block should look at seriously. With its economy set for a continuing high growth path, India now has the luxury of having multiple partners without having to compromise the autonomy of its decision-making process on issues of vital national interest.

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